Putting retail on the up after lockdown

Sue Shepherd, Realm’s General Manager for London Designer Outlet, talks to A1 Retail about ways landlords and retailers can work together to strengthen customer experiences during a pandemic.

Which of you started 2020 knowing that this would be a watershed year when industry in general, and the retail sector in particular, would be transformed so significantly?

Some changes were happening anyway, such as more experiential retailing, greater emphasis on omni-channel routes to reach guests and, I have to add, the ongoing strong growth of the outlet sector. Not only has the coronavirus pandemic accelerated these changes but also encouraged new ones.

One aspect that has come much more to the fore is the relationship between landlords and retailers across the sector. No longer can the two be viewed as parallel tracks of the same railway line, looking after their own interests and broadly heading in the same direction. Now, there is a greater need to focus on working as partners.

Take footfall, for example. The goal remains to encourage guests to visit more often. With concern for coronavirus, there is a growing trend towards localism with people choosing to shop nearby without a need to travel far. This puts greater emphasis on attracting visitors from across a retail destination’s catchment.

Prior to reopening after the first lockdown, we at London Designer Outlet, the capital’s leading fashion and lifestyle outlet centre, worked closely with all our retailers. We agreed individual plans and procedures for their stores and ensured we kept within all the Government guidelines, while adding plenty of our own local extras. The results were hugely rewarding, resulting in considerable enthusiasm and encouragement from our guests that saw growing footfall and increased trading metrics at our urban outlet centre, set in developer Quintain’s multi-billion pound transformation of Wembley Park.

What June taught us was that we could reopen safely, in a way that encouraged our guests to feel comfortable and confident returning, while also supporting our brands. It will form the basis of how we reopen after our current lockdown – but it’s only a start for how we work together.

When we reopen, we’ll be implementing initiatives and campaigns to encourage our customers to return to their favourite brands – and get more out of it. Let me give you three examples.

Better use of time – Dwell time has been important for ages and still is. However, we know that guests, currently, don’t wish to stay in public places longer than needed and will avoid public transport, if possible. With strict social distancing rules, not least those that limit numbers within each store, the onus is on having procedures in place and knowledgeable Guest Relations teams on hand to ensure guests make the purchases they want, and still have enjoyable and memorable experiences.

We have enhanced our animation over key trading days to visually engage with our guests through buskers, stilt walkers and performers to actively entertain and engage those queuing outside of stores. We hosted pop-up performances in the centre by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which were designed to surprise and delight shoppers and did exactly that.

Our guests returned over the summer and autumn because of the irreplaceable experience offered by physical retail. It’s our responsibility to build on that when we can.

Technology – Further helping our guests to shop hands-free, we were the first UK shopping centre to offer Dropit, the app-based, store-to-door delivery service. Added to that, we launched The LDO Edit to allow guests to browse our website and click-and-reserve from a curated (or edited) selection of popular items from our top brands. Additionally, we have enhanced our CRM capabilities by applying new technologies that enable us to communicate with our guests and personalise our approach, sharing with them unique and bespoke offers through personalised QR codes.

More for less – Being an outlet centre, we already offer up to 70% off RRP throughout the year. This becomes up to 85% off during seasonal sale periods such as our post-Christmas sale.

As we face the challenges created by the pandemic, I see landlords and retailers working closer together in partnership to enhance footfall, improve the guest experience and strengthen key trading metrics for the stores. In preparation for and when retail reopens once again, landlords and retailers can and must work together for the benefit of both parties and, most importantly, the people who shop with us.  This close co-operation will inevitably pay dividends for us all.

London Designer Outlet

+44 (0)20 8912 5224


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